California politicians thought that only allowing restaurants to serve water to customers if they requested it was supposed to be an easy and obvious way to help during an unprecedented drought. Many chefs weren’t happy about the measure, while others saw the whole set of restrictions as limp. Now Pacific Institute president Peter Gleick has concluded, based on what he calls a “’back-of-the-envelope’ estimate,” that the rule isn’t making much of a difference. Based on a survey that says the average American eats out nearly five times a week, or 260 times a year for all 315 million Americans, and assuming that six ounces of water gets left on the table at each meal, Gleick determined that about 20 billion gallons of water could be saved every year.
Using the same logic, Mother Jones determined that California’s 39 million people waste 2.5 billion gallons of water every year — which is absolutely a lot, but only amounts to roughly 0.2 percent of the water used just to grow the state’s almond crop. Eighty percent of the state’s water goes toward agriculture, and large tracts of California have actually been sinking because of farmers tapping into ground water, so perhaps turning help-yourself pitchers into contraband isn’t exactly the right way to approach the problem.